The fiftieth anniversary of a famous speech.
From Howard Kurtz on The Daily Beast, yesterday, May 11:
Newton Minow was in Washington last Monday to mark the 50th anniversary of the speech that shook up the broadcasting business, leading to the first educational children’s programming and eventually to PBS….
PBS, he said, “was an afterthought,” launched only after commercial television was entrenched. In Europe and in Japan, public programming came first and is taken as a given.
Minow no longer thinks TV is a vast wasteland, says he’s a news junkie and watches it all the time. He applauds the many choices available, but still believes there is a need for public television. “Why have libraries when we have bookstores? Why have parks when we have country clubs?” he asks with the air of a man who thinks the answer is self-evident.
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Howard Kurtz did not mention Canada, where the CBC, founded in 1936 in the days of radio, was by no means an afterthought, and where, once television started in 1952, it was a pioneer in high-quality, world-class Canadian productions until the late sixties. Since then there has been a steady decline in quality.
The time has come to re-examine the nature of public broadcasting in a new environment. CBC Radio has, on the whole, retained its standards – except in the vital field of classical music.
But television is the problem, not least because of the lethal cuts the corporation has suffered for more than twenty years, which the public has accepted without significant protest. Public broadcasting has ceased to be a matter of passionate debate and there is no evidence that the public considers commercial broadcasting, dominated by American imports, a “vast wasteland.” Nobody talked about it during the recent election campaign.
The public in English Canada seems to believe that, in the days of the Internet, the CBC, like the federal Liberal Party, has had its day, and would not mind if public television, other than the provincial educational channels, was reduced to the marginal role PBS plays in the U.S. In Quebec, it’s a different, far more positive story.
Changes in broadcasting policies have always been advocated by elites. The masses of television viewers are satisfied with things as they are.